Wednesday, 16 November 2011


"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semi-human. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog." -- Edward Hoagland 
This Dog Whisperer can only speak for herself - but from my point of view a Dog Whisperer is someone who:
  • Relies less on voice and human made tools to work with a dog - instead preferring to work with the same tools a dog works with;
  • Understands that no two dogs are the same, no two people are the same - therefore the approach must be intuitively tailored to suit the situation;
  • Works with the nature and psychology of the individual dog and the individual human...and there is more, much more as you will see below... 
Relaxing with my Aussie 'Tasha'
Over the years working and living with dogs one of most important things I learned was that if you want to teach a dog, help a dog, connect with a dog you must be willing and capable of employing the same techniques dogs use to communicate with and teach each other. To ignore this is to lose out on a world of opportunity - for the dog and yourself.
My pack, except for Robbie my Boxer who was out of the frame...
Robbie with Sarah, Carmen and Buddy
Dogs do not require 'training' to navigate through the ups and downs of daily life - they require fair and firm guidance supported by clear communication. Your dog does not just 'hear' your voice when you speak, your dog observes everything about you. It is the human that must be trained to understand all of the ways in which humans and dogs communicate. Only then can you really be affective in directing your dog. I will explain in detail further below.
Getting ready for a pack walk
I undo the damage done to dogs, strip the layers of confusion away and bring the dog back to its natural state of being – enable it to be who it was always meant to be.

There are an awful lot of dogs who exhibit ‘problem behaviours’. The dog’s humans do not know what to do. Not the dog’s fault though! 99% of the time the problem resides with the humans not the dog…much to the shock of the humans! Dogs are so horribly misunderstood. They are incredibly intelligent, sensitive beings…

Most dogs, will instinctively know what they are being asked to do if they are communicated with and shown in the right way at the right time and provided with the right support to navigate safely and confidently through situations. 

So, my task is to...

Teach/train the human…
  • To be aware of how their psychological/emotional state affects their dog; 
  • To understand how they are mis-communicating to their dog; 
  • To understand their dog; its body language, its reactions, its needs; 
  • To learn how to effectively communicate with their dog - including using less voice and instead more body language; 
  • To see when their dog is asking for direction; 
  • To provide leadership to their dog;
Coach and mentor the dog.

What Techniques Do I Use?...
Taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to dog training may work for teaching 'tricks'.  But to teach the skills required to navigate through the ups, downs and in-betweens of daily life requires an in-depth approach. Understanding and recognizing that each dog is an individual is of the utmost importance in achieving success. Many clients tell me 'I took my dog to training classes, my dog will sit but that did not teach me or the dog how to get through all of the situations  we encounter on a daily basis'. What is really required to train a dog and its human to navigate happily and  successfully through daily life is a complete package of knowledge and skills.

When working with dogs I use many techniques - it is important to note that any of the articles that I post may touch on one or several techniques but not all. I select the technique that I use for a particular dog based on my observations of the dog and an intuitive, instinctive assessment of that dog's and its human's individual requirements. For example when I am working with a dog that is hyper sensitive and very physically reactive I will not use voice or touch. I use a lot of therapeutic touch on some dogs, others require the use of herding techniques and so on. Each and every technique must be combined with:
  • An understanding of
    • The real intelligence, sensitivity and capability of dogs; 
    • How to read a dog's face and a dog's overall body language, and; 
    • All of the methods of communication - both conscious and sub-conscious, that people and dogs use to communicate, and how to intentionally employ the right method, at the right time, in the right way to suit the individuals and the situation.

  •  Understanding and recognition of the individual that is each dog - no two dogs are the same...taking a 'cookie cutter' approach to techniques is not the way to work with a dog;
  •  A complete recognition and understanding of all the elements that feed a behaviour and create an issue:
    • The vast majority of people can only identify one or two elements...which vastly inhibits the ability to resolve behavior issues;
    • Behaviours do not exist in isolation - there are always many elements that feed a single behaviour, there all always multiple behaviours that create a behavioral issue;
  • Self-restraint and discipline on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
  •  Sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct and timing on the part of the human who is directing the dog;
    • In order to understand, connect with and adapt quickly and effectively to a dog's learning requirements you must be able to employ the same tools a dog uses - acute sensitivity, awareness, instinct, intuition and timing;
    • Kindness, endurance, consideration, patience, persistence, perspective, the ability and know how to let the past go, the ability to set realistic expectations at any one point in time;
  • The creation of structure, rules, boundaries and limitations for each situation at the macro and micro level;
  • Understanding of all the elements that make up an instruction and direction to a dog...there are multiple steps involved in an instruction - not just one!
  • Absolute honesty - if you cannot be honest with yourself you will not be able to communicate clearly with a dog.
These are just some of the techniques that I teach my clients - my method is a holistic, all-encompassing approach.

What Tools and Gear Do I Use?


A dog does not use man made tools to teach another dog social manors or life skills! I rely primarily on the same tools that a dog uses - this is what makes my approach successful.  A dog uses sensitivity, awareness, intuition, instinct, timing, body language, some voice and touch. These elements in combination with calm, absolute confidence, patience, kindness, perception, determination, psychology (human/canine), little voice and a lot of body language are a human's greatest assets in communication - and these are the tools of my choice.


My leash belt as a tool bet to clip extra collars and leashes and a muzzle if required. I also bring extra collars as I find that a lot of people have the wrong collar on their dog. Especially reactive dogs…

I never use prong collars, chokes, halties, etc. But I do use martingale collars to ensure that a dog is never put in danger of slipping its collar. Should you be near traffic or the dog be very reactive (i.e. dog and human aggressive) you want to make sure that the collar does not come off and the dog be put in further psychological trauma via lose of control leading to physical harm. I would not use a harness on these guys at this point.

I always bring extra martingale collars with me when I go to a client's home for a session with a reactive dog - most people use standard side release collars that just slip off their heads. If they use a prong collar with their dog, I take it off and work with a martingale. I then teach them how to never need a prong again. Sometimes I use a double collar.

I always bring extra leashes - again, people tend to use the wrong type of leash to walk their dogs…if you have not established yourself as pack leader you should not use a 6’ long lease of an extensible leash.

The Teaching of Communication Skills

If the dog’s guardian has not learned how to read their own dog, is not aware of their own emotions, tone, etc., at the time that they are interacting with their dog - the message that they are trying to give their dog can end up being completely different than what was desired. The impact of such inadvertent mistakes in handling communication can be profound and exponentially harmful.

Further to that, too many people rely solely on voice to communicate with their dogs. People communicate to their dogs constantly via their own state-of-being, position of their body, the scents arising from emotional state. Dogs use their senses (sight, scent sound) more keenly and consciously than people do. They read stress and emotion in people before a person is even aware of how they themselves feel. A little tension in a persons shoulder, clinching of a hand, tightness of the lips, narrowing or widening of the eyes, change in breathing, sweating). Most people have not trained themselves and as such are totally unaware that they are communicating all this information. The impact of this is also far-reaching.

A dog's natural 'kit-of-tools' for communication - scent, sight, sound, their own state of being, the position of their body (or parts thereof), touch and voice is comprehensive. When a human does not know how to beneficially and consciously use these tools to communicate and relies on voice only the result on any dog, more so on a very sensitive dog, can be traumatic.

As humans we habitually approach/react too often from a raw state of emotion – this is an approach that can instantaneously overwhelm the more acute senses of a dog. I firmly believe that gaining an awareness of how you as an individual have habitulized this normal ‘modern-day human’ approach is key to having a better relationship with your dog.

Dogs require coaching as do their human guardians to support and enable the best in each other and their relationship. Dogs require that their humans provide sensitive and aware leadership – not domination. There is a profound difference between dominating your dog and providing it instead with the right type of leadership to suit the dog as an individual

The human's approach and investment of time and energy into the dog-canine relationship can have an enormous impact on the dog's psychological, adaptive, etc. development. Breed matters to some degree, but I believe the over ridding factor is not breed it is the individual dog's access to the right learning environment. Hey, much like it is for people too!

The expectation of many people is that their dog will inherently respect them. It is an erroneous expectation and assumption, based on a cultural belief rather than on psychology and the reality of the situation. It is also the first place where the human-dog relationship can really get off-track. When the expectation is not fulfilled, the human can become upset, frustrated at best. The negative impact on the psychological health of the dog can be profound.

Unless the dog is going to be working…i.e. search and rescue, bomb sniffing etc. training has nothing to do with bringing a dog up to be a happy well balanced individual. To learn the skills to navigate safely and securely through life, a dog requires coaching and mentoring just as a human does. If asked in a way that is truly clear, if led by the right example dogs do understand what is being asked of them.

To understand a dog you must first understand that the dog has much to teach man. Dogs have taught me so much over the years, most people never see that they can. Most people do not see the human-canine relationship as a partnership, an exchange of learning - they see it from a 'me smart human' you dog.

I approach issues from a holistic point of view...starting with the people...people create issues in dogs without ever being aware that they have done so. Train the people, coach and mentor the dog.

How I Work - Personalized In-Home Sessions

I go to my client’s homes so I can teach them how best to navigate through all of the situations they typically encounter in their homes and community (interacting with other people and dogs, squirrels, kids, cars, stores, veterinarian's, friends homes, etc).

I will work with one dog, or multiple dogs - how ever many my client has. If the client has more than one dog it is important to work with all of the dogs together...there are always instigators and followers in every situation. The social structure among multiple dogs my be despotic, triangular or linear, rather than hierarchical (as most people would wrongly assume). If you want to address a packs' behaviour - you have to work with the entire pack!

I normally do one four hour session with a client and that is usually enough to address, teach, coach and mentor both the dog(s) and his/her human(s).

First - I use my communication skills to provide the dog with its first opportunity to show its human just how intelligent and sensitive the dogs is. I start providing direction to the dog the instant we meet - but I do not talk to the dog, I use body language - a form of communication that dogs instinctively understand. A little disarming for the dog's human though, as they wonder how I got their dog to sit and calm without saying a word, while I was seemingly focused on greeting the humans!

Second - I begin to observe the dog and its people. I start to pickup on little things that the dog's people are unaware of.  Most people will only see the behaviour problem - but I see all of the little things that feed the problem.

Third - Every dog and its human are individuals. What works for one dog may not work for another. I have to be able to quickly assess and read the dog and adjust my method to suit. I do not teach everyone the same way nor do I use the same methods for every dog.  I always adjust to suit the dog and his/her person's personality, strengths and weaknesses. I work intuitively.

Fourth - Each and every little thing must be addressed or you cannot fix the bigger things. Each little tiny thing feeds into the whole. To try to do so over the span of days or weeks is a recipe for failure. It does the dog an injustice and sets both dogs and humans up for failure. The dog and human need to experience feel and navigate through the full picture to get to the other side. This is the psychology of the whole. No band aids, deal with, address and provide the right skills for a unified success.

Fifth - If you only address one of two issues and leave, opportunity for real change is lost. The power of the build through gained by every item addressed gives the dog and human the complete picture - psychological and physical - instils confidence and motivation, takes away fear and insecurity for both. A full kit of tools for dog and man. A partial kit of tools does not support and leaves a big gap for trouble.

Sixth - I do not insist that everyone be present - each case is different I judge needs and requirements by case, sometimes the presence of all is not necessary, sometimes it is. A four hour session is long so I keep the humans attention by being very in-tune with reading their body language, voice etc. I mix in a lot of humor and life to keep their attention up - I ensure that they do not remain tense as this is a state that can quickly drain their energy.I enable them to enjoy and this state their attention has a much wider life span and they can fully absorb information/experience. If a kid wants to use their cell phone, no big - I just work with it and then draw them in and review - because I am animated they are engaged, cell phone use drops off big time.

I usually spend the first 30 minutes to 60 minutes of a four hour session just dealing with the human's issues - which trigger the dog's issues. When we humans start to accumulate nervousness pertaining to our dogs in certain situations (i.e. our dog going up to another dog) we teach them to associate that situation with tension, nervousness, fear, insecurity...this is why dogs become reactive.

My first foot in the door starts it all - dog is escalated to intense excitement, rushes over, barking, wanting to jump  - and suddenly it all stops. Depending on the dog - my energy may have been enough or I may have made a little gesture etc., the people did not see, but their mouths are gaping open 'how did you do that?' Dog is quiet, calm, sniffing, sitting...the people tell me that there dog has never done that before…this then  shows the intelligence of the dog, its ability and willingness to change on a dime if asked to do so in the right way (and without hypocrisy!)

Here is a brief example...

A session I recently did with a couple who had two dogs, a 3 year old Labradoodle +/-120 lbs the other an 11 month old German Wire Hair x Poodle. The 11 month old was suffering from major anxiety. The big dog was sweet but did not know when to give space. Both dogs would take over the door and home when visitors arrived. The 11 month old had never gone to lie down in peaceful calm when visitors were over. It would pace, growl and bark constantly, it had started to lunge in the last few weeks too. To observe a dog go from that state to a state of peace is a beautiful thing to see. It is what the dog had always wanted...but was not able to achieve as it lacked the support required.

To see the transformation - dog and human - to know that the dog will not be psychologically or physically set at disadvantage in the future, is a very special thing to be a part of.

From my point of view a Dog Whisperer is a person who works intuitively, seeing and understanding the real nature of the individual dog and adjusting the method of training to suit the individual person and the dog.

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Article and graphics by Karen Rosenfeld